IG: The feds aren't ready for body cameras yet

(AP Photo/ Nick Ut, File)

One of the earliest measures in what’s now commonly referred to as “police reform” was a requirement for law enforcement officers to wear body cameras while on duty. It still hasn’t been fully implemented across the entire country (for a number of reasons) but it’s definitely more the norm than the exception these days. There’s one place, however, where almost no progress has been made. That would be among the federal officers working for the Department of Justice. These would include officers in the DEA, FBI, BATF, and the U.S. Marshals Service, among others. Someone appeared to finally notice this shortcoming and prepare a new policy to mandate cameras for all of these officers. But the Inspector General at the DoJ spoke up this week, warning that there may be significant problems associated with implementing the policy. Why? The issues would arise “due to inexperience.” (Government Executive)

As the Justice Department is preparing to launch a body camera policy for law enforcement officers across its components, its watchdog is warning the agencies are ill prepared for the initiative and could face significant implementation difficulties.

Justice components, such as the FBI; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; U.S. Marshals Service; and Drug Enforcement Agency, have virtually no direct experience with body-worn cameras, its inspector general found, nor do those agencies have any policies for their use or implementation plans in place. Earlier this month while the IG was finalizing its report, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco issued a new policy requiring the cameras for law enforcement officers engaged in executing search warrants and making pre-planned arrests.

“Over the course of our audit, we found that the components were generally unprepared to implement [body-worn camera] programs if required,” the IG said.

The IG isn’t saying that the body cameras are a bad idea or the policies shouldn’t be implemented. In fact, the report noted that body cameras could actually benefit DoJ officers in cases of false allegations of abuse or excessive force. That’s the same argument I’ve been making for years when it comes to other police forces around the country.

But if your primary objection boils down to saying that implementation will be challenging because none of them have any experience wearing a body camera, what’s your point? It was new for every officer around the country until the first time they did it. It’s not as if there are a lot of other professions out there where you’re always required to be filming every move you make. (Although now that I think about it, perhaps there should be. For example… members of Congress? Moving on.)

You can imagine how this type of policy could go off the rails a bit or at least present challenges if they try to rush into it tomorrow. But that wasn’t done anywhere that I know of. They should be able to send instructors around to all of their offices to provide training with the equipment in advance. Then, as the budget allows, deploy the cameras and make them mandatory. That’s how it was done in pretty much every unit around the country so far. It will probably take several years to roll out, but Rome wasn’t built in a day.

I still don’t see a significant downside to this. When we do come across the occasional bad apple in federal law enforcement, this might make some of them easier to identify and remove. The vast majority of these men and women are performing their duties honorably to the best of their abilities, and the cameras may shield them from false accusations. And there’s another possible scenario to consider. Perhaps there are some officers who are teetering on the edge and might go rogue on us. If they know the camera is running, that fact might dissuade them from going astray. As I’m sure most of your mothers taught you long ago, people are generally on their best behavior when they know somebody is watching.